March 13, 2017
The BJP won 121 assembly constituencies in Bihar in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. During the Bihar state election in 2015, the major opposition parties joined hands, 3% of BJP voters of 2014 shifted loyalties and BJP ended up with only 53 assembly constituencies and lost the state.
BJP won 328 assembly constituencies in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. For the UP election, two opposition parties joined hands, 3% of BJP voters of 2014 shifted loyalties, and the BJP still won 312 assembly constituencies and swept the state.
This, in essence, summarizes the bewilderment over BJP’s spectacular win in UP. I had pointed out in my column dated January 6 (“BJP not winning UP would be the only surprise”) that the quality and depth of BJP’s 2014 victory in UP was so high that it would take a three times worse performance than Bihar to lose UP. In other words, 10% of BJP voters of 2014 had to shift loyalties for the party to lose UP in 2017, not 3%.
Considering the enormous popularity of Prime Minister Modi, who was the face for the BJP voter in UP in both the 2014 and 2017 elections, this massive shift in such a short span was always very unlikely.
Usually in Indian elections, 3-5% swings in voter loyalties across elections reverse victories and defeats. In that context, the depth of BJP’s 2014 victory gave it the luxury to be able to lose a similar percentage of voters but still not lose the overall election.
Voters in 377 constituencies in UP had the choice of a BJP candidate on their ballot in both the 2014 and 2017 elections. As many as 44% of all voters in these 377 constituencies voted for BJP in 2014.
In 2017, only 41% did. Of these 377 constituencies, BJP won 314 in 2014 and 305 in 2017. It lost voteshare in 231 of these after 2014 and gained voteshare in 146. Out of BJP’s total tally of 312 seats in UP, 276 were common victories across 2014 and 2017.
In other words, ~90% of BJP’s victory in 2017 in UP was a repeat of its victory in 2014. BJP wrested 28 new seats from its opponents in 2017 vis-à-vis 2014 and lost 42.
Even though BJP’s vote share dropped by a few percentage points in exactly the same constituencies that it contested across 2014 and 2017, its massive margin of victory in 2014 gave it enough cushion to be able to absorb some of these vote share losses and still win these constituencies.
Essentially, BJP’s strategy of safeguarding its 2014 seats to minimise a drop in vote share has been its winning mantra in UP. There has also been speculation over whether BJP would have still won UP had there been a ‘mahagathbandhan’ of SP, Congress and BSP, as in Bihar between JD(U), RJD and Congress.
While post facto analysis is always misleading, it is evident from data that BJP would have still won a thumping majority in UP regardless.
BJP’s supporters may propound various theories, ranging from support for demonetisation to development, to explain BJP’s overwhelming victory in UP, while its critics may cast aspersions on the maturity of the UP voter in falling for divisive rhetoric.
While each is entitled to their own views, they are not entitled to their own data. Data tells us unambiguously that there has neither been an outpouring of support for demonetisation among UPites that it increased BJP’s vote share substantially, nor has there been such agony over it that a large majority of BJP loyalists deserted the party.
The bottom line remains that while a small percentage of UP voters may have shifted loyalties away from PM Modi, a large majority continue to repose faith and confidence in himas they did in 2014.
( Analysis by Praveen Chakravarty, a Senior Fellow at IDFC Institute & Founding Trustee, IndiaSpend. With help from Ishita Trivedi, Research Associate at IDFC Institute)